Amazon has been intentionally delaying shipments to customers who order books from the publisher Hachette, because Amazon and Hachette are in a protracted negotiation over prices. Readers and writers are unhappy.
Yesterday, Amazon (which tends to be tight-lipped about this sort of thing) released a statement explaining its side of things. The company framed its tactics as being in the service of customers:
Negotiating with suppliers for equitable terms and making stocking and assortment decisions based on those terms is one of a bookseller's, or any retailer's, most important jobs. Suppliers get to decide the terms under which they are willing to sell to a retailer. It's reciprocally the right of a retailer to determine whether the terms on offer are acceptable and to stock items accordingly… When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers.
I guess? Of all the ways to defend tactics like these, framing them as customer service feels like the least convincing one. Amazon went on to acknowledge that the fact that this was about books, instead of say, flatscreen TV’s, seemed to matter.
This topic has generated a variety of coverage, presumably in part because the negotiation is with a book publisher instead of a supplier of a different type of product.
People care about books, and about Amazon’s near monopoly on their distribution, in a way that’s subjectively different from the infinite array of widgets that Amazon distributes. From the outside, it seems so bizarre and shortsighted for Amazon to remind everyone of its enormous power, and to demonstrate that it’s willing to use it to hurt authors and publishers until they comply.
PS. If you want an opposite take on all this, Amazon linked to this blog post from a small publisher who's firmly on it's side. He thinks that the Times’ coverage of the fight is shoddy, the big publishers are being crybabies, and that Amazon has been better for his business than the chain store network that it supplanted.